Audio vs Text Poll

Out of curiosity and because there is a diversity of practices at AUFS I have created a poll to see if our readers prefer audio or text of conference presentations. It is unlikely I’ll start posting texts of my conference presentations, partly because I prefer audio myself (seriously, does no one else ride the bus? or do dishes? or want something to listen to while riding their bike?) and because I don’t want my talks judged as papers. But, still curious.

Should using your real name be allowed?

[Stanley Fish has a column up that I assume includes typical hand-wringing about the place of anonymity on the internet — I haven’t actually read the article, because I find Stanley Fish’s writing in the Times to be really annoying. Nevertheless, I’m going to riff on the basic topic, citing Fish’s unread column only because it’s what brought this topic to mind.]

One often hears complaints about the use of anonymity on the internet, usually from people in the mainstream media who worry about people using anonymity irresponsibly, to say things they wouldn’t be willing to say in their own name. Abuse of anonymity, it is often assumed, is one of the things that make the internet such a toxic, uncivil place, and therefore allowing its use is highly questionable.

What I’d like to argue here is that allowing the use of real names in internet discourse is equally questionable if not moreso. Continue reading “Should using your real name be allowed?”

Two further academic syndromes

In the spirit of academic Stockholm syndrome, I propose that the following be recognized as afflictions of academics in the next version of the DSM:

  • Having All Day Syndrome: It will sometimes happen that one’s only obligation on a given day is a relatively small task or group of tasks that could easily be fulfilled in a short amount of time. Inevitably, the fact that the time available dramatically outweighs the time needed will lead one to put off the task all day, leading to a mad dash to finish in the late evening.
  • Article That Writes Itself Syndrome: One occasionally has an idea for a piece of writing that seems so inspired or so simple that it seems possible to begin writing immediately. Yet in reality, one needs to do some kind of legwork (reviewing sources, etc.) before one can really begin. The end result is that one neither writes nor does the legwork, instead opting to sit and stare at a blank page and/or engage in worthless procrastination, berating oneself for not writing.


This is a part of a series of online cartoons, some related to religion, others not. Regardless of the topic, this one seems the best. The final bit is not as funny as the middle bit, but I appreciate how it switches the tone from snark to something more interestingly rueful.

AUFS’s failure of branding

In the comments to Mikhail’s send-up of SpecReal/OOP/OOO, I came across this very compelling post by Kvond that characterizes SpecReal/OOP/OOO as a kind of philosophical “speculative bubble.” Not being very conversant with Graham Harman’s work or the details of Levi Bryant’s “onticology,” I can’t vouch for the accuracy of Kvond’s analysis — but it does seem like his description of “philosophy as Ponzi scheme” is something that could actually happen:

These packaging movements [of OOO] meet squarely it seems with Harman’s own Great Idea concept of philosophical significance, the thinking that all the Great Philosophers were really exaggerators that some how fooled the public long enough to get their ideas off the ground. Once enough people “buy into” the intial debt of explanation it is passed off onto the whole group, the bad mortgage is cut into tiny Madoff pieces and distributed everywhere. Philosophy as Ponzi scheme.

This brings me to the point of this post: how can AUFS brand itself so as to reap the benefits of such dynamics? So far, we don’t have the workings of a coherent brand: we’re ecologically-minded quasi-internal critics of the Christian tradition who also read novels? Half the time we don’t even approve of our own ideas, much less advocate others join in the fun!

Obviously we need to streamline here, so what’s our Big Idea? (And no, “being rude to commenters” isn’t enough.) We can collaborate on the explanation later — right now, we just need something that can really reach out to MA students and the underemployed, because they’re at the forefront of blogging. Then we can work on how we divide out the labor of “declaiming from on high” and “responding to everyone who writes about [insert brand] ideas in 1000-plus-word blog posts.” I’d like to think I would get the former job, but my relatively hyper-active blogging would likely saddle me with the latter — Brad would probably thrive best in the declaiming department. Seriously, though, we can hash that out later. We just need a Big Idea, fast.

Read harder!

There are certain figures who, as it turns out, are always saying something more nuanced and just plain better than one customarily recognizes. When one puts forward a straightforward reading of the figure and then suggests that certain features of his or her thought may be improvable in some way, the figure’s defenders spring into action.

The figure, we learn, has already anticipated the critique and so thoroughly debunked it as to render it laughable. Indeed, the figure has conclusively demonstrated — for those with eyes to see — that the aspects of his or her thought that are supposedly bad or at least capable of improvement, are in fact absolutely necessary and good. The very terms in which the figure is being critiqued are decisively overcome and rendered moot by the figure’s work, making the critique naive and, if we’re going to be frank, even a little sad. If only people would sit down and read a little harder, they wouldn’t say such dumb things and they would have access to the abundance of good and nuanced ideas in the figure.

Continue reading “Read harder!”

When the dad from Calvin and Hobbes is your professor

This morning in class, one of my students sarcastically asked where dinosaurs fit into the New Testament. Improvising, I said that God actually hadn’t created dinosaurs yet and they were actually only going to be around in the end times. The reason there are fossils is that time is a circle and it’s already looped back around — the future dinosaurs died, then their bones remained in the ground for the loop-around.

This was coming off a class break, so students were kind of still filtering in, and someone asked where I was getting these ideas. I just pointed at my Bible and said, “Have you guys even been READING this stuff?!”

Sadly, one person looked so confused that I had to explicitly say I was kidding.

Cross-cultural understanding

For my devil course, we read Trachtenberg’s The Devil and the Jews, which traces the origins of modern anti-Semitism to medieval associations between Jews and demonic forces. Among the many crazy accusations medieval Christians levelled at Jews was that they kidnap Christian children and drink their blood.

Reflecting on this situation, I wondered how things might’ve turned out differently if there had been well-meaning, level-headed liberals back then. They could’ve sat everyone down and said, “Look, I know some people are always going to be uncomfortable with the fact that Jews are stealing Christian babies and drinking their blood. Understandably so! But we can’t let our gut-level reaction keep us from recognizing and respecting the fact that this practice is an important part of Jewish culture.”